Buy Overseas to Make Travel and Adventure Part of Your Life Right Now

But haven't we done this already? Haven't we already bought an old stone house surrounded by mud? Isn't that what we did in Ireland? Why do you guys want to do this again?

In 2004, Lief, our two children, and I spent a week touring around Istria, Croatia, with a focused agenda. We were in the market for one of the old white stone houses you find across this peninsula. To that end, we drove Kaitlin, 15, and Jackson, 5, in one car, and our property agent followed along behind in hers, from one stone farmhouse to another, up and down the narrow winding roads of these mountainsides, through the medieval villages, and past the ever-present fields of olive trees, grape vines, and sunflowers.

We had recently made our move from Ireland to France and, one rainy morning of that Istrian family adventure, standing in one more muddy Istrian farmyard, Kaitlin shared her observation. Probably she wasn't the only one wondering what we were doing. Having just relocated to Paris, where we were still in the process of renovating the apartment that would be our home in that city, busy with business and investment projects, why had we gotten it into our heads that we wanted to buy a 200-year-old house on the side of a mountain in the middle of the Istrian peninsula?

Because we liked it there. We wanted to stake our small claim to this beautiful and historic region that, during previous visits in previous years, had captured our hearts and our imaginations. We believed in the future of Croatia, a country with an extraordinarily complicated past and an extremely open-minded, forward-looking population. We recognized, at the time, that Croatia was at another turning point in its long history, and we wanted to be part of it.

Plus, the Istrian peninsula, we'd observed for some time, serves up some of the most delightful scenery on this planet. The land seems to rise up to embrace you. Everywhere you look, something nice is growing—olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins, blackberries, wildflowers. Even the buildings seem to be of the earth, built of its white stone and red clay. In some parts of the world, Nature outdoes herself. In others, that which man has built is impressive. In Istria, Nature and mankind have worked together over centuries, starting with the Romans, to create a land of delights you have to see to appreciate.

So that rainy morning in that muddy farmyard, with Kaitlin and probably others, too, questioning our sense, we decided that we'd found the old white stone house we'd come looking for, made an offer to the Istrian owner, and agreed on the terms with a handshake. The seller sealed the deal by making a gift to us of lavender oil his wife had bottled.

Before you're ready to retire, you're likely to notice places around the world where you'd like to be able to spend time. Not just once every several years or so in a hotel, but more regularly, as often as possible, in the company of your family and friends, and in a place of your own. That's the realization we made years ago in Istria, Croatia.

When you identify a destination that meets this description, we recommend you take stock of the bigger picture, considering, first, whether that destination is also a place where you think you might like to spend time long term, either full or part time, and second, if the real estate market there presents potential for cash flow. If the answer to either of those questions is yes (and certainly if the answer to both of those questions is yes), then you've found your ideal second home overseas.

In our case, with Istria, the answer to both taking-stock questions was enthusiastically positive, and, so, we pushed ahead. Whereas the house in Waterford and the apartment in Paris, for example, were purchased because we needed places to live at the time, we bought the property in Istria because we decided that this region was a part of the world we wanted an excuse to return to as often as we could manage.

The ideal property purchase overseas can be a holiday home that also qualifies as an investment and that could play a role in your retirement plan. This was what tipped the scales for us with the purchase in Istria. The old farmhouse came with a bit of land. On that land, we daydreamed, we could cultivate olives, figs, even grapes. Maybe we could try making our own wine! We could go for long hikes in the hills, exploring the medieval villages nearby, by day, then read by firelight come evening.

We returned to these ideas again and again and finally rationalized them with the agreement that this was a market we believed in. Croatians, we noted, were tired of struggling and fighting. They wanted peace and prosperity and were working hard to rebuild their country. Croatia's investment in infrastructure was and continues to be great, including an extensive modern highway system that allows you to travel through and across this mountainous country efficiently and comfortably thanks to a network of tunnels and bridges that is an engineering marvel. We like countries at turning points. They're lands of opportunity. That's how we perceived Croatia when we made our purchase there, meaning we believed an investment in real estate in that country at that time positioned us for long-term capital appreciation. The growing tourist markets in Croatia and especially in the region of Istria where we bought, thanks to annual film and truffles festivals, meant, as well, an opportunity for the property to generate cash flow when we weren't using it ourselves. Plus, we were buying in a country where real estate trades in euros, furthering our diversification agenda.

If your interest in investing in property overseas is not strictly and solely for cash flow but as much or maybe more to do with the allure of a second home in the sun or a pied-a-terre in a brand-name city, maybe you, like us in Istria years ago, have an idea about where you'd like to pursue those agendas—or maybe not. Maybe you're open to suggestions, looking for direction, and confused by all the choice.

If the agenda for your adventure overseas is driven more by your heart than your calculator, here are recommendations to help focus your thinking and further your plan. Following are glimpses into 18 countries where you could reinvent your life, full or part time, in retirement or otherwise, for the better, while diversifying your assets with the acquisition of a place of your own that could generate cash flow from rental when you're not using it yourself. I would classify these 18 countries as the world's top live-and-invest overseas havens. Each is, in its way and for different reasons, a great place to be.


Late 2001, the Argentines removed the peg between their peso and the U.S. dollar, devaluing the Argentine currency, which fell, at its lowest point, to 4:1 against the greenback. This crisis situation opened a window of opportunity that we took advantage of to buy, in 2002, with friends, two classic-style apartments in Recoleta, one of the best addresses in the center of Buenos Aires, for half what the place would have been valued at prior to the devaluation debacle. We rented out the apartment for six years, used it occasionally ourselves, and then sold it, in 2008, to double our investment. Prices had returned to where they had been just before the previous collapse. We sold, coincidentally, near a top.

When speaking of Argentina, it's safer to refer to “a” top, rather than “the” top, as there have been many and will be many more. Bottoms, too, and we are, now, in fact, on the doorstep of another bottom. Argentina is a diverse country with lots of natural resources. It could be—should be—an economic success story, and, now and then, it is. It's also a case study in economic mismanagement on a colossal scale. The ongoing problem is politics, which keep this country in a perpetual cycle of crisis that make living in Argentina anything but dull. Porteños (the folks living in Buenos Aires) are uncommonly likely to seek regular psychotherapy, to undergo cosmetic surgery, and (alas) to commit suicide. Argentines are a kooky bunch. They enjoy the drama of their country, and, frankly, so do we. Like the people who live there, Buenos Aires is vibrant and full of personality. Visit this city and you will remember it always, and Buenos Aires is only the beginning of what Argentina has to offer.

Argentina makes about one-half of all the wine produced annually in South America. About half of this comes from Argentina's Mendoza region, where the landscapes of red earth and purple grapes appear eternal. Argentina's is a café culture, meaning the people value good wine, good coffee, and good conversation. The art of conversation, so alive here, could be part of the explanation for how the extremely varied Argentine population has managed to live harmoniously throughout history, despite the near constant influx and influence of immigrants, starting with the Spanish, who came in the quest for silver (argentums is Latin for silver). Argentina was a Spanish colony until 1816. Then came the Swiss, the Italians, and the French, who arrived with their grapes. The British arrived about this time, too, and administered the building of the country's infrastructure, including its national banking and large railway systems. In fact, trains still travel on the left-hand side of track, a last stand of British influence.

Argentina can be an ideal option for part-year living, as Argentina enjoys reverse seasons of those in the United States. The expat community is not overwhelming. You can tap into it if you'd like, for friends and support, or you can make your own way among the Argentines, who are friendly, polite, and respectful. Family is a priority, yet Argentines like to socialize. In Buenos Aires you have access to tango halls, live theater, antique fairs, art galleries, opera, ballet, symphony, and independent film festivals. Elsewhere in this enormous country is some of the best skiing and hiking in the world.

Argentina offers strong lifestyle choices, from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, but thanks to the high inflation of the recent years, it is not cheap right now. The cost of living is not a bargain, but real estate can be if you find a motivated seller. As the ongoing economic crisis continues, these are ever easier to come by.


Warm, welcoming, independent, and private —those four seemingly contradictory adjectives best describe both Belizeans and their country. Belize is also one of the safest countries in the world, despite what you may read about it. In some neighborhoods of Belize City, gang members and drug dealers do the things that gang members and drug dealers do, but those are small, contained areas. Outside Belize City, crime is nearly nonexistent, and this country's Cayo District could be one of the safest places in the world.

Belize was a colony of Britain until 1981, meaning the people here speak English. They also value their freedom, as it's relatively new.

In the nearly 30 years that Kathleen has been spending time in this country, she has joked that “the good news from Belize is no news from Belize.” This is a sleepy Caribbean nation with but 330,000 people and three highways. On the other hand, little Belize offers a whole lot of what many retirees and investors are looking for—a chance to start over on sandy, sunny shores. Prices for a bit of sand on Ambergris, the most developed of Belize's islands, are not cheap but can be cheaper than elsewhere in the Caribbean. Other areas to shop in this country for the beach life are Placencia, on the southern mainland coast, and Corozal, on the northern mainland coast, where you're most likely to find a seaside bargain. We favor the interior Cayo region with its Mayan ruins, caves, rivers, waterfalls, and rain forest, a frontier where self-sufficient communities are emerging and attracting like-minded folks interested in being “independent together,” as a friend living in this part of the world describes it.

Belize is a small country with a small population. You'll enjoy it here if you like wide-open spaces and small-town living where everyone knows everyone. You won't like it here if you crave regular doses of culture or First World–style amenities and services. With the exception of Ambergris Caye, where the country's biggest expat community is centered and where, as a result, services to cater to foreign retirees and investors have developed, life in Belize is best described as back-to-basics. There's not a single fast-food franchise or chain store in the entire country.

Legal residency is easy to obtain in Belize, and foreign residents pay no tax in Belize on non-Belize income. We would not recommend Belize if you have a serious health concern or existing medical condition. Healthcare facilities and standards are improving but limited.


Brazil is one of the hemisphere's powerhouse economies, with a strongly emerging middle class. The country is energy-independent, has a solid industrial base, and is quickly becoming a world leader. Former President Lula da Silva's economic policies get much of the credit for Brazil's current enviable situation. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), per-capita income in Brazil rose by a staggering 162.8% between 2001 and 2010. During da Silva's tenure, the income of the richest Brazilians rose by 10%, while the income of the poorest Brazilians rose a hefty 72%. This has had a hugely positive economic impact. Today, Brazil's is the largest economy in South America and the eighth largest in the world.

Brazil's history is one of the Americas' fascinating stories. Over the years, it was the New World's great plantation slave society, host to its first major gold rush, and the country ruled by the hemisphere's only empire. Brazil was settled by the Dutch, the French, and the Portuguese, and, although the Portuguese ultimately gained control, all three left their cultural footprints, as did the Africans who came in slavery.

Brazil is an expansive country, but most of the viable lifestyle options are along the coast, from big city Rio de Janeiro to smaller beach towns like Florianopolis. We'd recommend taking a look at Maceió. The first Europeans to arrive here were Dutch settlers, who came to Brazil to start a sugar plantation to supply the ever-increasing demand in Europe in the early 1600s. The Portuguese took control of the area in the 1650s, and the city continued to grow. Maceió soon became a major seaport, exporting timber, tobacco, coconuts, leather, and spices.

Today, Maceió is modern, clean, and elegant with miles of white-sand beaches studded with colorful umbrellas and bordered by tall, swaying palms. Its warm turquoise waters gently lap the shores as beachgoers from all over enjoy the sun and sand. The town's long stretch of beachfront is the main attraction, and it's one of the best you'll find in Brazil. It's as naturally beautiful as it's possible for a beach to be, but without the bothersome vendors, beggars, and obvious sex trade that you'll find in other, better-known Brazilian beach cities. If you're in the market for cheap beachfront property, Maceió should be near the top of your list.

Downsides to Brazil include the small English-speaking population (relative to the 200 million inhabitants), meaning you'd have to learn Portuguese to make a success of living or investing in this country. Other downsides have to do with currency exchange rates and controls, important topics that we address in Part IV.

It used to be that Americans needed a visa to visit Brazil that had to be obtained prior to arriving in the country. This changed in 2019. Today, no visa is required unless you are visiting with the intention of establishing residency.


With its modern four-lane highways, reliable communications, and high standard of living, Chile can be one of Latin America's easiest transitions for American expats and retirees. If not completely First World, it is not far off the mark with the highest gross domestic product per capita in Latin America. The country feels efficient, well run, and safe. Utilities work, buses leave on time, and you can stroll the streets without worry. According to Transparency International, Chile is also one of the least corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere, ranking slightly behind the United States.

The American Baby Boomer's introduction to Chile was the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in 1973. The aftermath of this event, the long, harsh dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, proved a greater shock to Chileans than everyone else. It was largely out of character with this nation's history. Chile today is peaceful, stable, and prosperous.

Santiago, Chile's capital city, was established by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1540. Over the next decade, Valdivia expanded the colony in Chile, founding La Serena in 1544. It is this town we suggest you consider. Santiago is a great and modern city, but the extraordinarily high levels of pollution can make it an uncomfortable place to be. In La Serena, the skies are clear, with little pollution. At night the Milky Way lays a wide swath of glittering light across the skies, clearer here than practically anywhere else on Earth. For that reason, several major observatories are located in and near La Serena. The scientists who work at these facilities and their families make up a significant part of La Serena's expat community.

La Serena is a coastal community yet more temperate than tropical. Temperatures are pleasant year-round. This would not be a supercheap option but affordable and a good example of getting what you pay for. Chile in general, and La Serena in particular, offer a near-First World lifestyle for less overall than you'd pay in North America or Europe. The best value in La Serena is the cost of real estate. You can buy on the Pacific coast here for roughly one-quarter the cost of owning on the coast of California. One expat we know with experience in La Serena equates it to “California 40 years ago.”


Years ago, Kathleen sat around a table in a just-opened restaurant in a little-known mountain town in Panama called Boquete with a group of investors and businesspeople, in the country, as she was, to scout opportunity. “I believe that the potential in this place for retirees is enormous,” one of the gentlemen in the group (the one who had just invested in opening the restaurant where we were having dinner) theorized. “Right now, the opportunity here is for the investor and the speculator. Property prices are so undervalued. Apartments in Panama City are a screaming bargain on a global scale. Pacific beachfront, Caribbean, farmland, riverfront, this country has it all, and it's all cheap.

“Panama is still misunderstood, suffering from a lingering case of bad press,” the host for the evening continued. “When you say ‘Panama’ to an American today, he thinks: Noriega…drug cartels…CIA intrigue. It won't be too many years before those perceptions are flipped on their head. I predict that, five, seven years from now, when you say ‘Panama’ to the average American, he'll think: Retirement. Because that's what this country is gearing up to offer—a very appealing retirement option.”

That was 1999. In August 2010, the AARP named Boquete, Panama, one of the top five places in the world to retire.

In 2011, we sat around a table in a just-opened restaurant in a little-known mountain town in Colombia called Medellín with a group of investors and businesspeople, in the country, as we were, to explore current opportunity. “Property values in this city are so undervalued,” one of the gentlemen having dinner with us remarked. “I believe that apartment costs here are the lowest for any cosmopolitan city in the world on a per-square-meter basis. This is because Colombia, including Medellín, is still misunderstood. When you say ‘Medellín’ to the average American, he thinks: Drugs…gangs…Pablo Escobar. It's such a misperception. The current reality of this city is so far removed from all that.”

Our host for the evening had just toured us around central Medellín, taking us to see apartment buildings he was rehabbing, converting into rentals, including one in a neighborhood we'd not visited before. “Manhattan retro chic” might be the best way to describe it. Running off a carefully maintained, beautifully landscaped park, these few side streets are lined with small colonial structures housing sushi restaurants, funky bars, contemporary art galleries, and vintage clothing and furniture shops. The last thing we felt was unsafe.

Prices have appreciated steadily in Medellín since that 2011 visit. At the same time, the U.S. dollar has gained steadily on the Colombian peso meaning that it's still possible to find good buys in dollar terms, and this city of springtime, flowers, and innovative urban planning remains one of our personal favorite places to be.

Like Brazil, Colombia imposes exchange controls, which should not put you off buying here, but they need to be understood and respected. Also, taxes are high.


Neckties and wine. Croatia may be better known for its long coast along the sparkling green Adriatic and its tumultuous, 1,000-year-long history, but when we think of Croatia, we think of neckties and wine. This gorgeous, complicated country is the birthplace of both the necktie and the Zinfandel grape, and these two facts reveal a lot about Croatia. First, it has great weather. The Zinfandel grape requires a climate not too hot and not too cold. Croatia's mild winters and sunny summers make for perfect Zinfandel grape growing.

Second, Croats are the trendsetters credited with introducing today's tie to the fashion world. The Croat contingency of the French service wore their traditional knotted handkerchiefs during the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). The Parisians took a fancy to them and called them cravat—a cross between the Croatian and French words for Croat (Hrvati and Croates). So began a cravat fashion frenzy. In the seventeenth century, these kerchiefs became so intricate that they were tied in place by strings and arranged in a bow that took forever to arrange.

Croatia is tucked into southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea, between Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Slovenia. It's near the coast, Vienna, Venice, Budapest, skiing in Austria, and golf in Slovenia. It's been more than 20 years since the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was dissolved. Its six republics—Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia—are all very much their own countries today. Croatia is wearing its new skin comfortably, as it should. The Kingdom of Croatia was, in fact, its own entity starting in 925 AD. It joined Hungary in 1102 but maintained a Croat culture with hopes for independence. Although it was titled a free royal town in 1242, it took about 800 years before Croatia was independent again, this time from Austria-Hungary in 1918. That freedom, too, was short-lived, however. Croatia became a member of Yugoslavia after World War II and didn't stand on its own again until 1992. A Croatian friend told us a story about his family once. “My father lived to be more than 100 years old,” Lovorko explained. “He lived his whole life in Croatia, here in Istria. Not only in the same town where he'd been born but in the same house. And, in his lifetime, he lived in nine different countries.”

You have two strong lifestyle options in Croatia—the coast and the Istrian peninsula. The Adriatic waters offshore from Croatia are a sailor's paradise. Inland, in Istria, is a wonderland of another kind, with vineyards and olive groves. If you've any romance in your soul, we defy you not to fall in love with this country. The ancient Romans called it Terra Magica, the Magic Land. Perhaps the best part is that, unlike Tuscany—the region of Italy that Istria is most often compared with (with good reason, as the geography and the history of these two regions have much in common)—the average person can afford Istria, where you can buy a small, renovated cottage with lookouts over a valley and vineyards, perfect for regular visits, for rental, and for retirement, for as little as $100,000.

Retiring to Croatia, you'd be in good company. Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to abdicate his position (that is, to retire) was also the first person to retire overseas. Diocletian built a palace on the Dalmatian coast (his birthplace was Dalmatia), the location of current-day Split, and it is here, with the glorious Adriatic Sea spread out before him, that he chose to live out his days.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is an internationally popular all-inclusive resort destination that sees big volumes of tourists every year, thanks to its miles of sandy beaches and balmy temperatures. Indeed, 20% of all tourists to the Caribbean are headed to these shores specifically.

The Dominican Republic is also a top Caribbean choice for the would-be foreign-property investor and retiree. All that tourist infrastructure amounts to an extensive network of businesses and services that you can easily plug into, and, as a property owner or retiree on this island, you have more choices for the kinds of amenities you might be looking for than you'll typically find elsewhere in this part of the world.

Expats have been coming to the Dominican Republic, starting businesses and launching services geared toward their fellow foreign residents, for four decades. In the Samana Peninsula, for example, on the Dominican Republic's northeast coast, French and Italian food brands line the shelves of the expat-run specialty grocery stores, and signs for businesses are in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Foreigners do not get curious looks, because there are so many of them. The locals have enjoyed friendly relations with these settlers for a long time.

We'd say Las Terrenas, on the Samaná Peninsula, offers the best lifestyle in the country. What sets Las Terrenas apart in the DR—and from any other beach town in the region—is its sophisticated lifestyle. The French settled Las Terrenas generations ago, and their mark is clear. People greet each other with kisses on both cheeks, signs are in French, and baguette is de rigueur.

Harder to explain are the local property prices—figures that would be unheard of in most other parts of the Caribbean. You can buy a condo close to one of Las Terrenas' most beautiful beaches for less than $100,000. Villas start from under $200,000. And, if you'd prefer to build your own dream home, ocean-view lots are available for as little as $30 to $40 a square meter, and building packages for a two-bedroom villa start from $160,000. Rental returns on the best beachfront units are in the range of 9% to 12% net.

The Dominican Republic is easily accessible, especially from the East Coast of the United States, and offers competitive residency options. On the other hand, despite the established expat communities and the products and services they provide, this is a Third World country with Third World hassles and frustrations. It's also a Caribbean island in the hurricane zone.


Lots of overseas retirement destinations tout the fact that they're just like the United States, that, retired there, you could settle in to familiar surroundings. You won't hear that about Ecuador. Each day you spend in this country, you know you're in a different and wonderful part of the planet.

Ecuador is also the world's best place to retire overseas on a budget and to live better for less. The cost of living is low, and the cost of real estate is near rock bottom for Latin America. The healthcare is high quality, honest, and inexpensive. Specifically, we recommend Cuenca, Ecuador, a beautiful Spanish-colonial city with a fresh, spring-like climate 12 months of the year and a large and growing expat community that is one of Latin America's most diverse and well blended.

Cuenca's historic center measures roughly 12 by 20 blocks, big enough but manageable. Most of the streets are of cobblestone and hemmed in by Spanish-colonial buildings that seldom exceed three stories. Downtown Cuenca is generally well preserved, considering the original adobe construction, and today's Cuenca boasts cafes, restaurants, bars, and bookshops alongside traditional butchers, tailors, repair shops, clothing stores, and bakeries. The city is built around its beautiful town square, anchored by the original cathedral at one end (built 1557) and the “new” cathedral (1800s) at the other. Ecuador has other colonial cities, but Cuenca is the cultural heart of the country, with an orchestra and active art, theater, even tango traditions that you can often enjoy free.

Perhaps the biggest draw to Cuenca is its cost of living, which is low in an absolute sense. And living here you don't have to worry about currency exchange rates affecting your cost of living adversely; Ecuador uses the US dollar. Real estate, too, is an absolute bargain. You can buy a city condo for less than $100,000. The city's premium location is the historic center; this is the area that should hold its value even in the face of market ups and downs. It's a recognized world treasure.

While Cuenca is a developed city, much of Ecuador is not, with poor though improving infrastructure. Ecuador has the highest population density in South America (about 55 people per square kilometer) with a high percentage of indigenous and mestizos. This means we gringos stand out. If you want to blend in with the locals, you'd be more comfortable in another destination.


France has a polarizing effect on Americans. We either love the place or we hate it, and many of us believe the French hate us back. That last part is wholly untrue in our experience. It's also not true that the French are rude. They're among the mostwell-mannered people we've come across anywhere.

Whenever readers of our e-letters ask for our recommendation for the best place in the world to live or retire, budget considerations notwithstanding, we say France. It's the world's best example of getting what you pay for. There are reasons France sees more tourists than any other country in the world, some 90 million of them annually, which is 30% greater volume than the country's own permanent population. To accommodate all those tourists, the infrastructure of this country, from the airports and the train system to the restaurants to the hotels, has to be top notch and is.

France is not only perhaps the best place in the world to live, thanks to its food, wine, architecture, history, museums, parks, gardens, and cultural and recreational offerings, but it's also, thanks to its reliable tourist trade, one of the best places to think about buying for cash flow. A rental property in France, especially in Paris but elsewhere in the country, too, is about as recession-proof a cash-flowing investment as you're going to find.

France would never feature on a list of the world's bargain destinations; still, outside Paris, this country can be more affordable than you might imagine and even Paris doesn't have to be hyperexpensive. Much of the best it has to offer comes free (the parks, gardens, river walks, and most museums at least one day per month). But France isn't about cost of living; it's about quality of life. Paris is the most beautiful, most romantic place on earth, and France has much to offer beyond its City of Light. It can be possible to own your own piece of French country life for less than $100,000, especially if you're up for a renovation project.

Downsides to France include the bureaucracy. Thanks to Napoleon, all Civil Law countries love their paperwork, but, as ground zero for the Napoleonic Code, the French are best at this game. You can get almost anything done in this country if you have a paper stamped by some government official saying it's okay. It's getting that stamp that can leave you panting and ranting.


We arrived on the Emerald Isle with our little family and our business expecting to plug into the kind of infrastructure we were used to back in the United States. That didn't happen because the kind of infrastructure we take for granted in the States (related to transportation, telecommunications, banking, credit, etc.) doesn't exist in Ireland. Trying to run a business in this country, we felt like we were continually banging our heads against an Irish stone wall. Finally, frustrated and confused, we had to admit that we weren't going to change how the Irish lived and did business. We'd have to go along. We had no choice.

Now, years later, we find ourselves increasingly homesick for this country. With age and time, our perspective has shifted.

One day, after we'd been living in Waterford for maybe three years, a couple of readers stopped by our office. They were Indians, in the country to investigate the possibilities for relocating their software company from India to Ireland. Did we have any advice for them, they wanted to know. The couple represented the contradiction of the day. The Celtic Tiger was roaring loud, attracting investors (like us) from far and wide, entrepreneurs and businesspeople looking for opportunity, but we were all misguided. Ireland was holding out great opportunity, but not of the kind we were in the market for at the time, and that young Indian couple was confused when I warned them away. “Don't come to Ireland to run a business,” I told them. “You'll be driven mad.”

That advice is probably much less valid today but, more important, it misses the point. We lived in this country during the apex of the Celtic Tiger, which generated great amounts of wealth, more money than this island had ever known. As a result, the Irish then, like us, were distracted from what was right in front of them. They were busy covering their ancient green land with suburban tract homes, shopping malls, and fast-food franchises. We watched as pubs were replaced by nightclubs and as car dealerships eventually kept Saturday business hours and banks finally remained open through lunch. Ireland wanted so badly to compete on the global business stage. In that regard, it failed completely.

But now, when we think of our time in Waterford, the things that come to mind have nothing to do with business. We remember the owner of the corner shop across the street from our office and how he and his wife sent us a small gift when Jackson was born and inquired after both Jackson and his big sister Kaitlin every time we saw them. We remember the cabinet-maker who helped to restore our big old Georgian house to its original glories, shutter by shutter, wood plank by wood plank. We think of the castles and the gardens we explored on weekends and the few times we braved the beaches at Tramore, sitting on the sand in sweaters, shivering and shaking our heads, while, out in the cold Irish Sea, the Irish swam and surfed. We remember cows blocking the roads and sheep dotting the green fields. These are the pictures of Ireland we carry now.

The surest bets for rental purchase are the tourist trails—the Ring of Kerry, the southwest coast, Galway, and Dublin. Pay attention to proximity to amenities that are important to renters—the ocean, a nearby airport so they can hop around Europe, and a town they can walk to rather than having to drive (remember, the Irish drive on the left).

Ireland is less appealing as a place to retire these days since it changed its laws related to the requirements for establishing residency. Now you need to prove income of at least 50,000 euro per person per year to qualify.


“BARGAIN! Independent house, 110 square meters on two floors, composed of living room with fireplace, large kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom. Private garden of 2,000 square meters. Good condition, recently restored. 75,000 euro.”

That's a recent listing for a house in Italy. Not in Tuscany or Umbria but a corner of Italy that I'd say is at least as lovely. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. Stitching together seascapes with lush mountain valleys, this region is one of Italy's secret treasures. You can have the best of all worlds here at prices a fraction of those in this country's more discovered regions. If your budget is small, you can still afford Italy, if you opt for Abruzzo. Real estate here is up to 80% cheaper than in Tuscany and up to 50% cheaper than in Umbria.

You know the appeals of Italy, but you may not realize the diversity of lifestyles on offer in this country. On my most recent visit to Italy with the kids, we made a stab at recreating a version of the Grand Tour of old, exploring Italy's most heralded destinations with an eye to answering the question in each case, would we want to buy real estate or live here?

Venice is a gem of a place that you should see if you can. To be happy living here, you'd have to enjoy life on the water (getting anywhere requires a ferry or boat ride). I'd find it a hassle after a while. Certainly you'd want to leave in summer, when the temperatures can top 35 degrees Celsius for days on end and the narrow streets of this lagoon city are overrun with camera-toting hordes. In winter, the tourists are mostly gone, but the days are cold and damp. The real reason, though, why Venice isn't a top choice is its cost of living. Real estate values can exceed those of Paris (5,000 euro per square meter in out-of-the-way places to 20,000 euro and more per square meter overlooking the Grand Canal).

Ravenna is a stark contrast. This is a quiet Italian village with a rich history that today is largely overlooked. We made a point of stopping here because our art historian daughter wanted to see Justinian's mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale. While in Venice, the queue for the basilica was hours long, in Ravenna, we walked straight up to the window, bought our tickets, and continued directly into the church, where we had no competition at all for front-row viewing of the ancient masterpiece. The heart of Ravenna's old town is interesting and pleasant but small. Overall, that's the trouble with this city—too small. What would you do here after you'd viewed the noteworthy art and architecture? On the other hand, lunch in Ravenna cost less than 10 euro per head, whereas the best you'll do in Venice will be more than double that.

Rome isn't small, and, living there, you'd never run out of fun and interesting ways to spend your time. On the other hand, Rome is urban without the veneer that Paris has managed to paint over herself. Whereas Paris (to continue the comparison) is genteel and romantic, Rome is gritty and real. That said, Rome could be a much more affordable place to live than Paris. Avoid the tourist zones (as you would as a resident), and you could enjoy a full life here on an average budget.

One of Italy's biggest surprises is Pisa. Everyone comes to see the tower, but Pisa offers more. Its riverfront homes, candy-striped basilica, and baptistery showcase a bygone age of wealth. At one time, Pisa merchants competed successfully with those of Venice. Eventually, the city fell to Florence. Today, it's a one-hour stop for tour buses, but if you're looking for an Old World lifestyle, I'd give this city more attention. The old town is charming, and the town beyond is pleasant. There's enough here to keep your interest and to support a fully appointed life on the Continent, and you're minutes from the sea. Whereas Venice, Rome, and Florence are given over entirely to tourists each season, Pisa is quiet year-round. Busloads of travelers come and go from the tower each day while the rest of the city goes about its business. Because few seem to recognize any reason to stick around, real estate can be a bargain. You could buy a one-bedroom apartment here for as little as 200,000 euro.

If you're an art lover, Florence may seem like heaven, and, indeed, there's much in Florence to keep you occupied and engaged, but, to me, it doesn't feel like a place to call home. While Pisa is cozy, Florence is aloof. Florence would also be a dramatically more expensive choice. Better, maybe, to base yourself in Pisa and visit Michelangelo's hometown. It's but an hour away via autostrade.


Showing the bias of our perspective, we refer to Malaysia as Asia's Panama. That is to say, this country is a regional and a global hub, for trade, for business, and for cultures. The cost of living is affordable, although elsewhere in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, China) can be cheaper. Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia's capital, is clean, efficient, and well functioning, with shopping, restaurants, and all the other trappings of a modern metropolis. It's also (again like Panama) an expat melting pot with big numbers of expats both from all over Asia and, to a lesser extent, the West. Malaysia is more welcoming of foreigners than any other country in Asia. Its My Second Home program makes retiree residency easy to obtain, meaning you don't have to worry about regular “border runs,” as many expats in this part of the world do. Because it is a former British colony, English is widely spoken, so you don't have to worry about trying to learn to speak Malay either.

Kuala Lumpur, located in the heart of the Malaysian peninsula, is a city of contrasts. The shining stainless-steel Petronas Towers, two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, anchor a startlingly beautiful and unique skyline. Modern, air-conditioned malls flourish, selling everything from batik clothing to genuine Rolex watches and Tiffany jewelry. In the shadows of these ultra-modern buildings, the ancient Malay village of Kampung Baru still thrives, with free-roaming roosters and a slow pace of life generally found in rural villages. Less than a 20-minute walk from the city center, you can find yourself in the company of monkeys.

Life is different here than in the West. When you go to your neighborhood shop, take your time and converse with the owner, ask about his family as he asks you about yours. By the second or third time you visit, you are recognized and waved to when you walk down the sidewalk. You may be invited to dinner or at least to share a cup of rich kopi. In some Asian cities, it's easy for a foreigner to feel something akin to a walking wallet. Not in KL. Foreigners pay the same prices as the locals. Health care is first-rate, public transportation is modern and efficient, and the tap water is safe to drink. Beautiful beaches are just a short drive or flight away, cool mountain retreats can be reached in less than an hour, and the thriving city-state of Singapore is easily accessible in a few hours by car, train, or bus or an hour by plane.

Although KL is more expensive than rural Malaysia, it is marvelously inexpensive by Western standards. You could realistically expect to cut your living expenses by a third and still enjoy a lifestyle comparable to what you are accustomed to now. If Asia interests you, this is one place where you could pursue the ultimate diversification strategy. That is, while Malaysia, like all Asia, imposes restrictions on foreign ownership of land, you could purchase a house or an apartment in this country that could work for personal use, retirement, and rental. This is why Malaysia is the only Asian destination we've chosen to highlight.


Mexico is a big place with a bad reputation. The reputation isn't altogether undeserved, as drug cartels do control parts of this country but not all of it, and some of the most appealing regions for both living and investing sit outside the war zones. Mexico offers two long coasts, mountain towns, and colonial cities, plus Mayan ruins, jungle, rain forest, rivers, and lakes. It's also the most accessible “overseas” haven from the United States. You could drive back and forth if you wanted.

For all these reasons, Mexico is home to the biggest established populations of American expats in the world, making it a great choice if you seek adventure with the comforts of home. Mexico is no longer a supercheap option, but it is my top pick for enjoying a luxury coastal lifestyle on a budget, in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta is more expensive than other places where you might consider living or retiring overseas, but in Puerto Vallarta that's not the point. This isn't developing-world living. This stretch of Mexico's Pacific coastline has already been developed to a high level. Life here can be not only comfortable but also easy and fully appointed. In Puerto Vallarta, you aren't buying for someday, as you can be in many coastal destinations in Central America. In Puerto Vallarta, you can buy a world-class lifestyle in a region with world-class beaches and ocean views that is supported, right now, by world-class golf courses, marinas, restaurants, and shopping. This is a lifestyle that is available only on a limited basis worldwide, a lifestyle that is truly (not metaphorically) comparable to the best you could enjoy in southern California if you could afford it. Here you can afford it even on an average budget.

Real estate options in Puerto Vallarta vary from modest to jet set, in terms of both products available and price points. You could buy a small apartment outside Puerto Vallarta town for less than $100,000, or you could buy big and fancy for $1 million-plus. Whatever you buy, you could rent it out when you're not using it. The Puerto Vallarta region, including the emerging Riviera Nayarit that runs north from it along the coast, is a tourist rental market with a track record.

The other spot in Mexico worth highlighting is Ajijic and Lake Chapala, in the mountains, one of the largest and most established expatriate communities in the world. Ajijic, less than an hour from Guadalajara, has been attracting retirees for decades thanks to its lake (despite the lake's on-and-off environmental problems) and cool weather. Again, you could buy here, small and modest, for less than $100,000.


Nicaragua was once the breadbasket of Central America. Thanks to the first round of Sandinista rule and the confiscation of farmland in the name of “the people,” that changed in the 1980s. The activities of the Sandinistas also created a stigma related to property rights in this country that remains. The country's current Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, however, hasn't done anything to infringe on anyone's property rights, but he is keeping both foreign investors and tourists away, meaning values are seriously depressed.

Geographically, Nicaragua is blessed, with two long coastlines and two big lakes, plus volcanoes, highlands, rain forest, and rivers. In this regard, it's got everything Costa Rica and Panama have got, all less discovered and developed and available for the adventurer and eco-traveler at bargain rates. Architecturally, too, Nicaragua is notable. Its two sister colonial cities, Granada and Leon, vie for the title of Oldest City in the Americas. Whichever story you believe (that the Spanish conquistadores settled first on the shores of Lake Nicaragua at Granada or, perhaps, a few months earlier in Old Leon), Nicaragua is the big winner, with impressive colonial-era churches, public buildings, and parks to her credit.

Recent protests related to proposed changes to the country's pension programs and the ongoing general concern over what trouble Ortega might get up to have created a crisis investment opportunity in a country that, its political and economic troubles notwithstanding, we continue to find appealing. You wouldn't be buying confident of appreciating values or reliable rental returns, but, if you appreciate the country's beauty, history, and people, as we do, this is a chance to take a position among them for pennies on the dollar.


Panama has been one of the world's most important crossroads since the days when pirates ruled these waters. You name it, it passes through Panama in some way at some time going somewhere. Largely as a result of its crossroads positioning but also thanks to its reputation worldwide as a top retirement, tax, and business haven, Panama is the fastest-growing market in the region and one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.

Panama's benefits are many, including First World health care at Third World prices and the world's gold standard program of special benefits for retirees (plus 14 resident visa options for the nonretiree). It's also one of the world's few remaining tax havens (meaning you can operate an online business here tax-free), and a U.S. dollar-based economy (meaning zero currency risk for dollar holders).

When the United States handed over operations of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians, and the 10,000 U.S. military and their families departed the Canal Zone in 1999, the country fell into recession. A lot of disposable income disappeared overnight. Panama worked quickly to find ways to replace the lost economic activity. One focus since has been attracting the foreign-retiree market. In addition, the country has developed its tourism, banking, and financial-services industries and has invested in the expansion of its canal, which generates more than $2.6 billion annually. That's a lot of cash flow for a country of about 4.3 million people.

Panama is a small country but offers many lifestyle and investment options, some better than others. Panama City is not a top lifestyle choice but, thanks to all the foreign business and investment activity, the best place in the country to buy for reliable cash flow and value appreciation long term. Certainly you should be able to resell it easily when you're ready; this is about as liquid a market as you'll find. The best buy outside the capital is Pacific beachfront. The farther from Panama City, the better the price.


Have you ever wondered why Portugal is at the center of the world map? It's because the Portuguese were the first to map the world.

“We have a word in Portuguese,” a friend from Lisbon, Miguel, told us once, “that doesn't exist in any other language.

“The word is saudade. It means a longing for, a missing or a yearning for something. It's a noun, not a verb, and its meaning is born from the feeling of a young wife for her husband sailor long at sea.”

“Yes, and this is connected to another important word for us,” another friend, João, interjected. “Saudade is connected to fado.

Fado is our traditional music, but it is also our destiny. It is not good, it is not bad. It is simply the way your life is because of the choices you have made.”

“Yes,” Miguel explained. “Saudade is the fado of the woman who has chosen to marry a sailor. It comes with the territory.”

Most of the world looks at Portugal as the edge of Europe. The Portuguese look at the world map and see themselves right at the center, at the heart. Portugal identifies herself with the sea. For the Portuguese, the sea is part of their territory, a continuation of their domain. For them, therefore, Portugal is quite expansive.

In recent history, Portugal has been mostly ignored and overlooked, but there was a time when this country had the world's attention. It was the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator, an architect of the Age of Exploration, who bid his men to “sail on, sail on.” Those orders compelled brave adventurers around the Cape of Good Hope to China and India and then across the Atlantic. Those orders were given, specifically, from the very bottom of the country's long Algarve coast, in Sagres, where Henry built his famous School of Navigation. It was from this point that Portuguese explorers set off to discover if indeed dragons lay beyond these shores. At the time, this was the acknowledged end of the world.

Portugal's Algarve region is a unique bit of European geography at the southwestern corner of the Continent, at the longitude of Great Britain and the latitude of Delaware. It is protected from winter by the movement of the ocean in the Gulf Stream, and, as a result, it has the best climate in Europe, with more sunny days than any other country in this part of the world and steady winds that mean the region is never unbearably hot and rarely humid.

Unlike many sunny paradises, the Algarve is not a little island in the middle of nowhere. It is attached to the Continent and reachable by car from Lisbon and points farther north. You can fly here from the U.S. East Coast in short hops, as few as six hours to Lisbon from Boston, for example, where many flights originate thanks to the Portuguese diaspora. From Lisbon, it's a three-hour drive or a quick flight to the Algarve coast.

Another reason the Algarve is such an appealing choice for North Americans seeking adventure, reinvention, opportunity, or a new life abroad is thanks to the British. The monarchs of Portugal and England married each other from the fourteenth century on, creating the oldest alliance in Europe before Europe really existed. The Anglo-Portuguese friendship did not end with the death of Prince Henry and his brothers. British royals carried on marrying Portuguese princesses. Then, after World War II, the Anglo-American allies continued to operate from the Azores, a Portuguese territory. Over time, as a result, many British families settled in Portugal. By the 1950s, they had begun to populate the southern coast. A decade or so later, the charms of the Algarve were discovered by the Beatles and their fans, who moved in to the fishing port town of Albufeira, still the home of the most authentic fish and chips in the region.

Despite all this attention from British tourists and expats, the Algarve was thankfully never as overbuilt as the Costa Brava in Spain for a practical reason. The terrain is too hilly to allow mass-produced ticky-tacky little boxes to be plunked down, as they have been, over the decades, along stretches of the Spanish coast.

The most important relic of all the years of close association with the British is one key to American and Canadian happiness in the Algarve today. Nearly everyone here speaks English—both the local population and the big non-British foreign population. It is the lingua franca for the region.

The Algarve offers a one-of-a-kind lifestyle that could be described at once as quintessential Old World and twenty-first-century resort and that represents one of the Continent's best values. This is a land of medieval towns, traditional fishing villages, open-air markets, cobblestoned streets, and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys surrounded by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees…all fringed by a 100-mile-long coastline that includes some of the best beaches in the world.

Portugal's Algarve checks all the boxes for the would-be traveler, expat, retiree, or property investor. It's safe and stable, beautiful and welcoming, healthy and affordable. It has great weather (with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year), top-notch infrastructure, and international-standard healthcare available for a very low cost. The region's 100 miles of coastline boast some of the best beaches in Europe and 42 golf courses. Portugal offers the most user-friendly and affordable residency option in the eurozone, and retirement income is not taxed. Real estate values have been rising since 2015, but you can still find great bargains relative to the rest of Western Europe.


If culture is a priority for you, look to Spain. History, architecture, literature, art, and music are part of daily life. Outdoors enthusiasts, too, will enjoy Spain. The Spanish coast is a golfer's paradise. However, in many other regards, this is one of the most overhyped and disappointing stretches of coastline in the world. The nicest thing that can be said about it is that it's ultracheap in the wake of this country's ongoing property market collapse.

Spain has become a traditional retirement destination for Europeans, like Arizona and Florida for Americans. You can find here, if you're interested, big expat retiree communities along the Mediterranean coast and smaller ones elsewhere. Or you could decide on one of the country's interesting cities, from Barcelona to Valencia or Seville. If you prefer a cooler climate, look at the country's north coast.

One spot in particular we would recommend is the Costa Tropical, one of the least-known, quietest, and most authentically Spanish of the Mediterranean costas. The Costa Tropical is in the province of Andalusia. It lies to the east of the infamous (and horrible) Costa del Sol and to the west of the desert-like Costa Almeria (Spaghetti Western country). The Costa Tropical's position between the brilliant blue Mediterranean and the soaring Sierra Nevada Mountains creates a subtropical climate where living things flourish. Attracting visitors for its climate, beaches, and scuba diving, it also makes a great base for exploring inland Andalusia and the beautifully preserved white villages of the Alpujarras, Granada's mesmerizing Alhambra Palace, and the Sierra Nevada National Park. Morocco is not far away.

Almuñécar (almoo-nyEAh-car), one of the Costa Tropical three main communities, combines the charm of a typical Spanish town with the best of northern European influences and services. The locals are open and friendly, and the expats are happy to be here. This town, with a population of 22,000, has hung on to its Spanish charm, unlike the better-known Spanish coastal towns, and tends to attract more Spanish than foreign visitors. The town has an incredibly wide range of historical influences, including Phoenician, Roman, and Moorish. “How could you live anywhere else?” asks the town's Mayor Don Juan Carlos Benavides, and he may have a point.


Uruguay is known the world over for the beautiful beaches running the entire length of its coast. The country's best value in beach property is the Costa de Oro, a 30-mile stretch of shoreline with uninterrupted golden sands whose name translates to the “golden coast.” What's more, the Costa de Oro also contains some of Uruguay's best coastal towns for full-time retirement living. It offers something else, too, that most of the Atlantic coastline does not: incredible sunsets, thanks to the general east-west orientation of its shoreline.

Best of all, you're in Uruguay, a country that offers a peaceful, genuinely laid-back culture, along with a notable absence from the world's conflicts, and where expats can obtain easy residency and even a second passport. Uruguay has a solid financial center and an economy that continued to grow during the recent worldwide recession. It's also a country with abundant ground water, mild weather, and a surplus of renewable electricity from hydropower. All things considered, it is an appealing package—a beautiful coastline with First-World infrastructure, a solid democracy with a healthy financial system, and shady seaside towns where the beachfront homes start at just $75,000.

Uruguay is located on lower South America's eastern seaboard, wedged between Argentina and Brazil. The country shares a land border with Brazil and is separated from Argentina by a wide river, the Río de la Plata. The capital city of Montevideo, the southernmost capital in the Western Hemisphere, is home to almost half of Uruguay's 3.5 million residents. Roughly the size of the American state of Missouri, Uruguay is the second-smallest country in South America after Suriname.

In the 1800s, the country's Costa de Oro was considered a worthless stretch of land. It consisted mostly of moving dunes, which in some places extended for miles inland from the sea. Two of the area's first development initiatives were dune-forestation projects at Atlántida and La Floresta, resulting in today's abundance of shady pines, eucalyptus, and sycamore trees in these spots. By 1910, the area was starting to get the attention of Montevideo's wealthy families who were looking for country getaways and seaside retreats. In the late 1930s, development increased dramatically as the first land subdivisions were planned. The area drew the attention of European investors looking for a sound place to invest outside Europe as World War II began. This stretch of coastline continued to be popular, attracting the elite of Montevideo and beyond, until the 1950s. Then the Punta del Este began to draw wealthy vacationers farther along the coast. The Costa de Oro's popularity is on the upswing again, as expats and second-home shoppers from North America are taking note of the excellent property values on offer.

Uruguay can qualify as sleepy, which can be a pro or a con, but never-sleepy Buenos Aires is only a quick flight or ferry ride away. The other potential downside to this country is the distance from North America and the fact that few flights serve Montevideo direct from the United States. You have more options connecting through Buenos Aires.

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